Lars  Haue-Pedersen

Last month, BCW conducted a survey among senior officials from 100 cities worldwide active in bidding for and hosting sport events.

We wanted to know more about how these experienced cities view the way international sports events are allocated. 

Specifically, we were interested in knowing whether these key stakeholders in the international event industry prefer to stick to a traditional bidding process or whether a so-called dialogues process works better for them.

traditional bidding process is launched by a rights holder and includes a detailed set of requirements, a strict timeline, and a clear decision-making process. 

Interested cities state their interest, submit official bid documents, maybe host a site visit, and often execute a communications campaign. 

All the candidates make a final presentation, and then the decision-makers vote, either openly or secretly, and a final decision is made public.

This is very different from when an international event is awarded to a city via a dialogue process. 

Here, the rights holders initiate an ongoing consultation with cities that are interested in hosting the event, and after discussions ('dialogue'), site visits and negotiations with one or more candidates, the rights holder appoints a host city for the event and makes an announcement. 

Often the list of cities that are in dialogue with the rights holder is not made public and there is no set deadline as to when the announcement of the host city will be made.

When asked in our recent survey, a clear majority of the cities - 56 per cent - stated they prefer the dialogue process to the traditional bidding system.

Milan Cortina 2026 Winter Olympics was awarded under the traditional bidding process after a period of initial dialogue ©Getty Images
Milan Cortina 2026 Winter Olympics was awarded under the traditional bidding process after a period of initial dialogue ©Getty Images

The main reasons mentioned by the cities for favouring a dialogue process were the opportunity to influences the event rights holder's requirements (via a dialogue) as well as the opportunity to learn and develop through a deeper engagement with the rights holder.

So, this could lead to the conclusion that awarding events through such a dialogue process, which has become the preferred approach by IOC and several IFs in recent years - while organisations like FIFA and UEFA stick to the more traditional bidding process - is the right way forward.

However, there is a need for improvement of this process which was mentioned by the cities in the survey: the current dialogue process in many cases lacks clarity, consistency and transparency.

Experienced host cities call for clarity in the process that will be used with a set timeline from beginning till end. 

Stunningly, 57 per cent of the cities surveyed - and have in mind that these are experienced and generally well-informed sports cities - have in recent years missed the chance to secure the rights to host an event because they were not aware of the process for allocating the event. 

There was simply no official communication from the rights holders about any process for allocation. 

As stated by one of the surveyed cities: "We have sometimes experienced that an interesting event was awarded and we hadn’t heard that this was open for bid."

Consistency in the event allocation process is in high demand from potential host cities, but often not prioritised by the rights holders. 

Cities experience that the process - both when based on traditional bidding and on dialogue - is suddenly changed with a new timeline, new candidates entering in the middle of the process and sometimes additional editions of the event are allocated in the last minute without any prior announcement.

Rights holders should pay careful attention to this because it might influence the interest of cities for future events from the same rights holders. 

Almost half of the surveyed cites - 47 per cent - say that they have in recent years decided not to bid for future editions of a (for them attractive) event because of a less positive experience from a previous bid for the same event. 

Brisbane 2032 is the first Olympic Games to be awarded after targeted dialogue with the IOC ©Getty Images
Brisbane 2032 is the first Olympic Games to be awarded after targeted dialogue with the IOC ©Getty Images

As one of the cities surveyed formulates it: "It only works when the rights holders stick to their agreed process and don’t change the rules far into this process."

And finally, transparency. Many cities find that there is an overall lack of transparency when it comes to rights holder’s decision-making - from when the decision will be made, which exact criteria it will be based on, how these criteria are weighted - not everything can be equally important - and not at least who will make the decision. 

With an increased scrutiny on how public sector entities spend taxpayers' money, this is something event rights holders should very much pay attention to.

The process of how the event is allocated, and whether it can be defended in a public debate with local citizens and media, significantly influences the interest of cities in trying to secure the rights to host an event. 

Almost 80 per cent of respondents in the survey said that the process had a high or medium influence on their decision to pursue an event.

Cities around the world are still eager to host international sports events. 

The call for clarity, consistency and transparency in the allocation process - via traditional bidding or dialogue - will however only get stronger in the future. 

So, rights holders should take good notice of remarks like this from one of the surveyed cities: "We will in the future not enter into a process which is not clearly defined and where we don’t’ fully know the decision criteria and who will make the decision."

See the BCW survey here.